by NINA SHILLING
Ever since our Teacher asked us wholeheartedly to give up eating meat a few years ago, I’ve heard a lot of conversations about vegetarianism. Sangha friends often say they wish they could become vegetarians, but don’t believe that they would be healthy if they did. I can understand this as I myself was a reluctant carnivore for many years because I hadn’t found a healthy way to become a vegetarian.
I prayed to Rinpoche for months to show me how to give up eating meat–with no success. Then my digestion really fell apart, and through this situation I was able to discover a very creative, gifted and healthy nutritionist who was herself a vegetarian. Amazingly, in three years I went from being an unhealthy “big meat” carnivore to a very healthy vegetarian, and although to this day I still enjoy the smell of meat, I don’t crave it or feel the need for it. My nutritionist always assured me that practically everyone one, except folks with some life-threatening diseases, could be a healthy vegetarian–if they knew how to make the transition. I’d like you share with you what I’ve learned and done with the hope that you might feel encouraged to try it yourself. If you feel that this is too big a leap for you, what I describe below is also a great way to eat less meat.
1. Give up eating meat gradually.
This gives your body a chance to understand and adapt to a new diet. Our bodies are actually very sensitive and intelligent, and, like anyone, appreciate being treated gently rather than forcefully. If you eat meat more than once a day, maybe give up one meat meal every other day, then, gradually, one meal every day, then eat meat every other day, and so on. You can also experiment with eating smaller portions of meat. Really, our bodies generally don’t need more than 4 oz. of meat at any meal.
2. Be sure to have some kind of non-meat protein for every meal that doesn’t include meat.
Eggs (non-fertilized) are a good choice. Vegetable proteins like whole beans, such as pinto, garbanzo, kidney, white, red and black beans, for example, and all kinds of lentils are also good, as well as nuts, especially almonds. Red and yellow lentils are especially easy to digest. Be sure to have some whole grain at least once a day. Millet and wild rice are rich in minerals, quinoa is high in protein, barley is a great digestive aid for an agitated stomach, and brown rice is readily available. These are just a few of the whole grains now offered in many stores. This, in conjunction with a bean or lentil forms a fairly complete protein. Avoid processed grains, such as white rice, pasta and white bread, or eat them sparingly, as the refining process removes much of their nutritional value. Cultured dairy products, especially kefir and yoghurt, are a good choice because adults no longer have the enzymes to digest milk and most cheeses well, but the culturing process that kefir and yoghurt undergo makes these dairy products more digestible.
3. You may need to take a few supplements.
It’s sometimes difficult to get all the amino acids and B vitamins that meat provides. Some people find it helpful to complement their vegetarian diet with B vitamins, such as B1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 12, and/or a complete free-form amino acid supplement. These are available at supplement shops and health food stores, or can be ordered on line very easily. While amino acid supplements are derived from meat, they can be helpful to take once a day until your mind and body are ready to give up animal protein entirely.
4. Have snacks and be generous with your proteins.
A little bit of meat can go a long way, whereas vegetable proteins need to be eaten more liberally and often more frequently.
5. Over time you may notice that you feel lighter.
One of the pleasant surprises I got when I completely gave up all animal protein was that I felt different, less burdened. They say that we are what we eat, and I now believe it. The heaviness and fear that animals feel when they anticipate being killed, or are being killed register in their bodies. When we eat their flesh we can pick this up, without even noticing it. It’s only by contrast that I noticed how much lighter I felt after giving up eating meat altogether.
Vegetarian meals can be delicious, and offer an almost endless variety to your diet. Experiment with recipes, be creative, and enjoy! Giving up meat is only a part of being a vegetarian. There is much more. It’s not just about what you are giving up, but really about the great wealth of living food that you can incorporate into your diet and enjoy–the varied colors and flavors of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices which change with every season. In being a vegetarian you make a change from eating what is dead to eating what’s alive and fresh, and this in itself is a huge and beneficial energetic shift. There are many nations around the world where people never eat meat and lack nothing in terms of energy and nutrition, and, in fact, significantly reduce their risk of colorectal cancer by 60%. If you are interested you can broaden your culinary experience with recipes that people have enjoyed and thrived on for centuries.
There is also an added bonus–you may be able to look at living animals with more affection and ease, knowing that you will never have them or one of their brothers or sisters killed for your dinner.
7. Get support.
If you’d like some support for making this transition, I’d be happy to chat with you about your questions and ideas. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 510-540-0907. If you need a bit more expert advice I’d be glad to refer you to the professional nutritionist who knows this field inside out. She has the advantage of keen intuition and can usually tell through a phone conversation what each particular person’s body needs at every step along the way to a meat-free diet.